Frequently Asked Questions
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Recovery is returning to health. Recovery from drug or alcohol dependency is an ongoing process from using alcohol or drugs to sobriety, a return to health and a healthier lifestyle.
Recovery has several identifiable stages:
- The first stage is recognizing, or being willing to admit to yourself, that a problem exists. This usually happens when a person is hurt, threatened, or scared enough to take action—commonly called “hitting bottom.”
- The second stage is the cessation of drinking or using addictive, mind-altering substances. This stage of recovery includes detoxification, and may or may not require medical attention for withdrawal symptoms.
- The third stage of recovery is referred to as “early recovery,” and usually pertains to the first two years of abstinence. During this time, people work to make changes in negative lifestyle patterns and behaviors that were developed to hide drinking and drug use. This important stage of recovery is when most people connect with 12-Step recovery programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, find a sponsor, and join a support group that provides focus and help during the recovery process.
- The fourth stage of recovery involves ongoing change in positive directions that enhance a clean and sober lifestyle and help the person remain free from addictive substances.
The third and fourth stages of recovery may include counseling, attendance at recovery support group meetings, and a variety of other activities, such as schooling for career advancement or connecting with a church, meditation, or social group. Recovery is not an event that happens at a given time. It is a process of involvement that encompasses all aspects of a person’s life.
Abstinence is the most important part of recovery. Using the definition of recovery as a “return to health,” recovery refers to the process of learning to overcome behaviors that have caused you to become alienated and have cost you your self-esteem. This important phase begins with abstinence. However, it also involves learning new habits of honesty and improving your ability to have healthy relationships. To learn these new behaviors, many find it useful to join a program, engage an ongoing support group, or get into therapy to learn the needed skills to improve their lives.
Principles of recovery, found in Alcoholics Anonymous, help individuals to incorporate new ways of living that improve the emotional and spiritual aspects of their lives, as they maintain freedom from addictive substances. Recovery gives your body time to heal from the debilitating physical effects of chronic alcohol or drug use. Fortunately, once they stop using, most people fully recover their physical health.
Some physicians are unfamiliar with chemical dependency and may offer you medication that could threaten your sobriety. Chemically dependent individuals who are in recovery typically need to avoid all medications that are addictive, mind-altering chemicals. These include:
- Benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Xanax, Ativan, Librium, and Centrex
- Narcotics, such as Codeine, Vicodin, Vicoprofen, Klonopin, Percodan, Dilaudid
- Sleeping pills, such as Seconal, Nembutal, Restoril, Dalman, Ambien, and Somata
- Muscle relaxants, particularly Soma
- Stimulants, such as amphetamines, Ritalin, Adderal, Dexedrine, and Phentermine
These categories of drugs are addictive and have a tendency to stimulate the central nervous system in a manner that can trigger a craving for the chemically dependent person’s drug of choice or other addictive substances. If you are chemically dependent, you must be careful when taking any medications. You can easily become addicted to certain medications, even though the medication may not have been your preferred substance of abuse. You must also be aware of the effects of over-the-counter medications, herbs, and supplements because some of those products may produce effects similar to active addiction.
Recovering individuals need to have a physician familiar with their history, as they can usually never safely return to using addictive substances. In the chemically dependent brain, alcohol and drugs increase the level of dopamine, causing the addicted person to feel euphoric or “high.” The brain adapts to this condition and undergoes a chemical change, so that when the drug or alcohol isn’t present, the brain demands more. This is experienced as a “craving” by the addicted person. As the addicted person uses more and more, the brain changes become permanent.
When pain medications are needed for acute pain, it is important to have someone knowledgeable working with the chemically dependent individual to keep their use of pain medication to a minimum whenever possible. Most people do not need narcotic pain medication for more than two to three days following even serious surgery.
There is no known cure available for chemical dependency.
The brain, when exposed to narcotic pain meds or small amounts of addictive substances, is reminded of the lack of the addictive substance. This can set off intense cravings that trigger compulsive use of the substance. People, places, memories, painful feelings and stressful events can also set off intense cravings.
Most chemically dependent people believe that recovery includes other indicators of a return to health, such as reunification with their family, gaining employment, returning to school, living a more fulfilling and spiritual life. The terms “recovering” and “recovered” are used to indicate that recovery is an ongoing process since there is no known cure for chemical dependency. Many in recovery understand they have recovered from the devastating effects of active use, however believe their ongoing recovery is contingent on support to aide in keeping a daily focus to abstinence and recovery maintenance.
Aftercare groups, following treatment, combined with 12-Step recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, work very well for large numbers of individuals. Participation in aftercare groups reinforces the positive behaviors we’ve learned in order to avoid the pitfalls that can contribute to relapse.
Addiction can cause depression. As the disease progresses and life becomes damaged by the behaviors associated with addiction, people can become depressed. They may experience alienation, rejection, isolation, and humiliation. They may feel suicidal and hopeless. A large number of recovering people find their depression clears dramatically as life improves in recovery. Bouts of minor depression are common in the first year of recovery, however, if you are continuing to feel severely depressed with no change in the level of the depression after your first thirty days of recovery/abstinence, please see a doctor. If you are still experiencing significant chronic depression at three months into recovery, it is urgent that you seek help. Safe, non-addicting medication is available for the treatment of depression.
Some chemically dependent people are so overwhelmed by their obsession to use that they do not believe they can live without using. They are so terrified of giving up their addiction that even intervention won’t help. These are the individuals who end up sacrificing family, friends, careers, property, self-esteem, sanity, anything and everything to continue using. Tragically, their way out of the disease is often institutionalization and ultimately, premature death.
Other chemically dependent individuals have extreme difficulty in overcoming denial. But these people can be reached. Intervention and treatment can help break their denial and aid them in getting help. Many types of treatment are available, and a knowledgeable counselor can aide in finding the appropriate level of care needed. Help is available. Call us for more information: 1-877-399-1993.